“Alright, alright, it’s not easy for the second son’s family either. He’s a son-in-law who married into Xu family, and it’s already filial enough for him to help us out,” said Li Ama, uttering words of criticism, implying that Li Changfeng’s family did have grain but that Xu Qing was not giving it to them. “It’s getting late, you should go back quickly, or else your family will be worried.”
Li Changfeng didn’t bother to argue further. After bidding farewell to the Li family, he rode a sturdy donkey that didn’t look thin at all and headed home while the moon was still bright.
“Ama, the donkey looks so fat,” Li Laosan’s little son tugged at Li Wangshi’s clothes, his face filled with longing. The child didn’t understand what drought meant, but he knew that there was less and less food on the table these days, and there were only a few days when they could eat their fill.
Li Laosan came back to his senses, patting his child’s head and looking at Li Wangshi’s face, which had become thinner over these days. He was filled with guilt and heartache. Li Xiao’er went back into the room, locked the door, and lowered his head to search through the cabinet at the end of the bed.
When Li Changfeng returned home, Xu Qing was already fast asleep. Afraid of waking Xu Qing with his movements, Li Changfeng tidied up quietly and climbed onto the bed. Although it was summer, the temperature at night was still slightly cool. As soon as Li Changfeng got on the bed, Xu Qing snuggled up to him, seeking the warmth.
Li Changfeng gently embraced Xu Qing and placed his hand on his four-month pregnant belly, gently stroking it. There were still six months to go before the child would be born. By then, it would be the beginning of the next spring. They could only hope that the heavens would open their eyes and bring rain soon, so that the child could have a more comfortable life.
Translated on ho lo lo novels dot com.
A few days later, Xie Ama came over for a chat. “I went to Ji Xiang Village yesterday. Do you know what happened there?” Since Xie Ama had managed to purchase enough grain in advance, he wasn’t too worried. He often came to chat with Xu Qing when he had nothing else to do.
“What could possibly happen at a time like this?” In a year of famine, everyone was somewhat troubled, and Xu Qing didn’t know what could be worth discussing.
Xie Ama understood Xu Qing’s thoughts. “Just because it’s a drought year doesn’t mean people stop gossiping. When people have free time, they tend to gather and talk about everything!”
Xu Qing adjusted his body and sat down, his increasingly heavy body making it more difficult. “Then please go ahead and tell me. Don’t keep me in suspense.”
Li Changfeng went out to wander around, so Xie Ama wasn’t worried about him overhearing. “It’s all because of Li Laosan.”
It turned out that Li Laosan, with his unfulfilled ambitions and a large household but very little grain, couldn’t go on like this. If they continued to endure, not only the children but also the adults might starve. So he discussed it with Old Man Li, saying that he wanted to become a teacher!
He even went to the village head’s house for this matter, and the village head was also helpless. Li Laosan, in his younger years, was the one people looked up to for education, but he considered himself above it and refused. Now, when half the villagers can barely eat, he suddenly wants to become a teacher!
“I don’t want any money. Just give me some grain every month,” Li Laosan said, to which the village head asked, “Do you think grain is more important now, or money?”
The price of grain at the town’s rice store has skyrocketed. With the little money in the hands of rural folks, how much grain can they buy? People can’t even eat their fill, and yet he wants others to exchange their money for grain. It’s quite a fanciful thought.
Li Laosan felt somewhat awkward and didn’t continue the conversation. He sat there silently, unwilling to leave. After thinking it over, the village head decided to inform the villagers that Li Laosan would be teaching children outside the village ancestral hall. Those who were willing to send their children could do so, considering the difficult times everyone was going through. It was more of a symbolic gesture.
“What happened in the end? Did anyone send their children?” Xu Qing was genuinely curious if any families took the opportunity to send their children to study. Despite the hardships everyone was facing, such an opportunity was worth it. The contributions might be much less compared to prosperous times, but it still mattered.
Xie Ama’s expression showed some surprise. “At first, no one showed up that day. But I heard that now more than ten families have sent their children. They are offering simple food like steamed buns. It’s not easy for them either. We initially thought Li Laosan wouldn’t accept, but unexpectedly, he took them in.”
Xu Qing nodded thoughtfully. It made sense. Li family probably had nothing left in their yard except for the grain Li Changfeng had delivered earlier. They all needed to eat, and Li Laosan, despite his inner reluctance, had no choice but to accept.
“Wife! I’m going to Li’s yard! Younger brother is missing!”
As soon as Li Changfeng arrived home and informed Xu Qing, he prepared to go out with Eldest Li following behind.
“Missing?” Xu Qing stood up and asked in confusion. Eldest Li quickly explained, “Some clothes are missing. He wasn’t home yesterday, and we thought he had come to your place. But he didn’t return today, so I came to check…”
Li Changfeng prepared the donkey cart without saying much. “I’ll go look for him. Xie Ama, please take care of Xu Qing for a while. Wife, I’m leaving.”
“Don’t be polite with me. Go on, go on,” Xie Ama felt that it was a big issue. Li’s unmarried ger had gone missing, which was a significant event.
“Go ahead, don’t worry about me.”
Xu Qing wanted to go along and search, but he lacked the strength.
Xie Ama pulled Xu Qing to sit down and wondered aloud, “The Li family is really something. Their own son has been gone for nearly two days, and now they think of looking for him. It’s such a waste!”
Considering what Eldest Li had said, Xu Qing thought that if the person left and took some clothes, it meant that the younger brother had left on his own. This slightly alleviated Xu Qing’s worries. But then he thought, what if Li Xiao’er had gone with another man…! That would be a bigger problem than running away on his own!
Xie Ama had similar thoughts, but he kept them to himself. The way kids think these days is quite different from when he was young. They have their own unique ideas and perspectives now.
Li Changfeng led Eldest Li back to Jixiang Village, but there was still no one at home. They inquired with several families where Li Xiao’er used to spend time, but they couldn’t find any clues.
Eldest Li suddenly remembered something and said to Li Changfeng, “I remember these past few days, Xiao’er has been going to Zhou’s house to see Chen Hong!”
“Why is Chen Hong at Zhou’s house?” Li Changfeng was confused. Wasn’t he supposed to find Chen Hong at his own house? Why did he go to Zhou’s house?
Eldest Li slapped his thigh and said, “Chen Hong married into the Zhou family! Well, it’s a tough year, and they didn’t hold a big wedding. You wouldn’t know about it.”
So Li Changfeng and Eldest Li went to Zhou’s house. Chen Hong was sitting under the eaves, doing embroidery. Although Zhou Wen had passed the scholar examination, their family wasn’t well-off. Embroidery work could earn them some extra money, and it sold because of Chen Hong’s skill. In these difficult times, not many people could afford to buy such things.
Li Changfeng knocked on the courtyard door, and Chen Hong put down him work and opened the door. “Big Brother Li, Brother Changfeng.” Chen Hong didn’t expect Li Changfeng to come looking for him, just as Li Changfeng didn’t expect Chen Hong to quietly marry Zhou Wen.
Li Changfeng saw that although Chen Hong had become a bit thinner, he didn’t look haggard. He figured he hadn’t suffered any mistreatment at Zhou’s house. “Come in and have a seat.” Chen Hong graciously invited them inside, but Li Changfeng declined. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the two men to enter the house when he was alone.
To save time, Li Changfeng got straight to the point and explained their purpose. Chen Hong lowered his head in thought. “He has come a few times. He doesn’t talk as much as before and seems more composed.” He also knew a little about the incident with Li Xiao’er’s ear. “But the last time he came, there seemed to be a sense of parting in his words. However, he didn’t say much about it.”
Li Changfeng and Eldest Li couldn’t do much, so they thanked Chen Hong and prepared to go to town and ask acquaintances if they had seen Li Xiao’er. “By the way, please keep this matter confidential. It’s just our little brother throwing a tantrum,” Li Changfeng knew the power of gossip and reminded Chen Hong before leaving. Chen Hong agreed to keep it a secret.
“Don’t worry, I understand the importance of this matter. Goodbye, Brother Changfeng.” Goodbye, you who I hold the deepest in my heart.
Only after Li Changfeng and the others’ figures disappeared from sight did Chen Hong close the courtyard door. Zhou Wen, who had been hiding in a corner nearby since Li Changfeng’s visit, finally came out. He stared at his own courtyard gate, cleared his throat, and opened the door.
After Li Changfeng and Eldest Li arrived in town, they split up to ask around. Li Changfeng’s first stop was Lin Fangliang’s place, and it was also where he obtained information about Li Xiao’er’s whereabouts.
“You mean he went to the town to take care of the old Ama at the Deng family who is sick, right?”
Lin Fangliang nodded. “That family only has Deng Ama. Deng’s son and their family went to another town for business, so there’s no one to take care of him at home. During those days, we were looking for someone to take care of Deng Ama, but he refused. Then Li Xiao’er came to get medicine, and Deng’s son mentioned the situation. So, Li Xiao’er said he would give it a try.”
Seeing Li Changfeng’s calm expression, Lin Fangliang continued, “Little did we know that Deng Ama actually agreed when Li Xiao’er went. So Li Xiao’er has been preparing to come to town these past few days, staying with and eating with Deng Ama. The monthly wage is 450 wen, which is quite generous during this period.”
Lin Fangliang truly didn’t know that Li Xiao’er hadn’t even informed his family and left alone. “Don’t worry too much. The Deng family is decent. Although their business isn’t large, they are honest people. Besides, they don’t have any man living there, and their residence is close to the government office, so the security is good. Li Xiao’er takes care of Deng Ama, providing three meals a day, medication, and companionship. It’s much better than him being gloomy at home.”
No one would want to see the person who almost ruined their entire life, at least not for now.
“Then please show me the way. I want to go see him,” Li Changfeng said. Although he had less worry about Li Xiao’er’s whereabouts, he still needed to meet him to understand more. Only then could he truly feel at ease.
“Okay, let’s go.”
The Deng family’s residence was not large, but it was well-secured. Li Xiao’er stood in front of Li Changfeng, expressionless. “Second Brother, I didn’t do it on purpose. I had packed my things that day and planned to bring them over first. That way, even if they didn’t agree, I could come directly. But that afternoon, Deng Ama developed a fever, and there was no one at home. I had no choice. I couldn’t just leave him unattended. So…”
“You scared us to death! You’re already grown up, you should know what’s important and what the consequences are!” Li Changfeng scolded Li Xiao’er, who obediently listened and nodded from time to time to show that he acknowledged his mistake.
However, after Li Changfeng finished speaking, Li Xiao’er still said, “It seems like you and Second Brother-in-law are the only ones scared…”
Li Changfeng glared at Li Xiao’er. “What kind of talk is that? Today, Big Brother and I were searching everywhere for you!”
Li Xiao’er fell silent, hanging his head low and sulking. Li Changfeng sighed. “Alright, Lin Fangliang has already told me about the situation here. Moreover, I just saw Deng Ama, so I feel reassured. Do you want to explain things by coming back with us, or should I speak on your behalf?”
Li Xiao’er immediately chose the second option. “Thank you, Second Brother! You’re really kind!”
“You should also go home and take a look. After all, you’re not married yet, and there are things that need to be taken care of,” Li Changfeng said. He felt like he had been worrying too much. His child hadn’t even been born yet, and he already knew how difficult it was to be a father.
“I understand. Besides, I’ve been thinking about the situation at home. If I do more work, we won’t be in such dire straits,” Li Xiao’er said, aware of the food shortage at home. The three little ones always complained about not being full, and the youngest one, who didn’t understand, even wanted to eat meat. It pained him to see them like that.
“Alright, go back now. I’ll go find Big Brother and make everything clear when I return,” Li Changfeng told Li Xiao’er to go home while he and Lin Fangliang, who was waiting outside, looked for Eldest Li on the street.
By the time Li Changfeng and Eldest Li returned to the Li family’s courtyard, it was almost dusk. When Li Changfeng’s words were heard by everyone in the family, they were all filled with excitement.
“Is this true?! Xiao’er really went to take care of that person! How much is the wage?!” Li Ama, the most excited one, asked Li Changfeng eagerly.
Thingyan: Chen Hong got married? Why didn’t Chen Qi invite Li Changfeng, his best friend? Oh, the betrayal.